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Keywords:

  • enamel prism decussation;
  • human mastication;
  • finite element analyses;
  • biomechanical behavior of dental tissue

Abstract

This theoretical study explored whether the directions of loads to which modern human molars are commonly subjected to are reflected in the biomechanical behavior of the tissue itself. A detailed finite element model of a piece of decussating enamel (M3 paracone) was created, taking into account differences in crystal orientation between the prism head and the interprismatic matrix, and was tested under differently angled mediolateral loads (i.e., mimicking various stages of the chewing cycle). Second, although teeth are highly mineralized, they also contain organic material and water, while in modern humans, there are systematic differences in chemical composition from the outer enamel surface to the dentinoenamel junction. To test the biomechanical effects of this gradient in mineralization a second set of models with gradually changing properties was created and subjected to the same loads. Chemically heterogeneous enamel yielded overall lower stress levels than homogenous enamel, especially at extreme loading angles. However, the general trends regarding the increase in tensile stresses at more oblique angles, and the number of nodes exhibiting tension, were comparable between the different set-ups. The findings support suggestions that (a) the biomechanical behavior of dental tissue is the combined result of micromorphology and chemical composition and (b) that the range of loading directions, to which teeth are normally subjected to, can be inferred from dental microanatomy. For (palaeo)biological applications, the findings suggest that the absolute strength of teeth (e.g., bite force) cannot be predicted with certainty, whereas kinematic parameters of the masticatory apparatus can. Anat Rec, 2007. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.